The CRTC is at it again.

Only days before its ban of the Dire Straights song “Money for Nothing” from Canadian radio airwaves, after over 20 years of broadcasting, the CRTC is proposing an amendment which would allow for the airing of “false and misleading statements” as long as they show no harm to society.

In simple terms, the amendment comes down to the change of one word: a simple “or” transformed into an “and.”

“It used to be that you were prohibited from broadcasting something that is false and misleading or that might cause harm to the lives and safety of the public,” explains Dr. Stacey Hannem, assistant professor of Criminology at Wilfrid Laurier Univeristy. “So by adding this word ‘and,’ effectively they are saying it’s only problematic if what you are saying is false and misleading and we can see a direct harm to an individual or group of people.”

The big unanswered question is what influence, if any, that Sun TV has had on the CRTC. The proposal comes only weeks before the expected launch of Sun TV News, a program similar to Fox News and MSNBC in the United States, in that it will offer polarized positions on contemporary issues.

“Sun TV will take up a similar kind of positioning and will bring in commentators as part of their news broadcast who can then make statements about the ‘loony left’ and that sort of thing,” says Hannem, “and they can’t be accused of broadcasting anything misleading. The defense is, ‘well, it’s not hurting anyone so the fact that it’s false and misleading no longer is an issue.’”

But who will be the judge of what is harmful? What criteria will be used in determining whether a news piece is harmful or not?

“I don’t think the CRTC can be clairvoyant in its prediction of what will be harmful,” says Hannem.

Dr. James Cairns, assistant professor of Contemporary Studies at WLU, feels that such a ruling by the CRTC will have larger effects on our democratic society.
“A vibrant democracy requires universal access to a clear-eyed view of the facts,” says Cairns, “so it’s always troubling when there are signs that our standards for truth-telling are diminishing.” However, there is also a flip side to the coin.

“At the same time, however, free speech is the cornerstone of democracy, so it’s equally troubling when restrictions are placed around who gets to make claims to truth in the first place,” says Cairns.

Up until February 9th, the CRTC is accepting comments on their proposal. If you wish to voice your opinion on this controversial proposal, head to www.crtc.gc.ca.

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